Pakistan would face burden of failing Afghanistan
There is an apprehension that terrorist groups under the Taliban-led-Afghanistan are likely to flourish
Pakistan’s hand in the formation of the 33-member new Taliban led government in Kabul was evident with its announcement being made within days of the visit of the country’s DG ISI and selection of officials who would control the state.
The new dispensation side lined Doha negotiators led by moderates, while Pakistan leaning hardliners, UNSC proscribed terrorists, and members of the pro-ISI Haqqani network were main gainers. Even pro-Iran members of the Taliban were ignored.
The interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, an individual who carries a bounty of USD 5 million, ended up as the most powerful leader in the new government. Sirajuddin Haqqani was also behind attacks on Indian assets in Afghanistan.
As many as 17 members of the new government are UNSC proscribed terrorists, including four Guantanamo detainees, released in exchange for a US soldier in Taliban custody.
The new government comprises 30 Pashtuns, two ethnic Tajiks and one Uzbek. There were no women as also none from the Hazara community.
The announcement of the government drew international criticism as it was neither inclusive nor were women included. In its first act, the Afghan government abolished the Women’s Affairs Ministry and re-established the hated Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
The western world will most likely not release funds for Afghanistan while the current government is in place. China, promised an aid of USD 31 Million to Afghanistan, backing the new government, hoping it will suppress the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
The Taliban allayed Chinese fears by stating that ETIM members have left the country. This can never be confirmed.
Terrorist groups in Afghanistan are likely to continue to flourish, rather than be controlled, as demanded by the globe. The Haqqani’s are suspected to be close to the Islamic State (ISIS-K) which launched the recent suicide attack on Kabul airport and were subsequently targeted by the US, possibly based on Taliban inputs.
They are also closely associated with Pakistan backed terrorist groups like JeM and LeT which operate in Kashmir. The new Afghan Army Chief, Qari Fasihuddin has ties with the ETIM.
The virtual meeting of foreign ministers of neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, convened by Pakistan, was not attended by Russia, indicating it was not on board with Pakistan pushing its own nominees on the Afghan government. The Pak foreign minister, SM Qureshi has been repeatedly urging the global community to engage with the Taliban and prevent a looming humanitarian crisis and economic meltdown in Afghanistan. With global demands of an inclusive government including women not being met, this request may fall on deaf ears.
Simultaneously, CIA, MI6 (British Secret Service) and Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BDN) chiefs, as also the Russian secretary of their security council visited India and held discussions with the National Security Advisor on the current scenario in Afghanistan.
Russian intelligence claims there are thousands of ISIS-K fighters close to the borders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is possible that a future approach towards Kabul will be determined jointly. The approach could also include support to resistance movement’s slowly gaining ground.
The internal situation in Afghanistan continues to be unstable. Protests against Pakistan and the Taliban continue in cities, largely spearheaded by women. The new Afghan government banned protests indicating a hard stance.
In Panjshir, while the Taliban, with active support from the Pakistan Army and Air Force may have entered the valley, but heights continue being held by the Northern Alliance. These operations have resulted in losses to the Pakistan Army, which it can never declare as it would open doors to their direct involvement.
There were reports of aircraft, belonging to the erstwhile Afghan air force, being launched from Tajikistan targeting Pakistan forces supporting the Taliban. This could only happen with tacit support of Russia.
Uzbek warlords in Afghanistan may open a new front. All neighbouring countries are increasing military deployment along their borders with Afghanistan.
Iran had stated that it would only recognize a government which was elected and inclusive. With the non-inclusion of Hazara’s or members of the pro-Iran group, Iran would remain uneasy. It may activate its Fatemiyoun Brigade (comprising of battle hardened Afghan Shia members) in Herat in case Hazara’s are threatened.
This implies that an enlarged proxy war could be in the offing. This could be a repeat of the Syria scenario. This would draw in Pakistan, which would be compelled to intervene to ensure control over Afghanistan.
The behaviour of Taliban 2.0 is similar to its predecessors. The taking over of the vacant Norwegian embassy and destroying liquor bottles and children’s books projects no change in their mindset.
This is backed by its treatment of women and killing those whom it captures during operations. Many in the current government functioned during the previous regime.
A drought in the country has resulted in massive food shortages. In earlier times, the global community, including India, would rush in food stocks. This time there is almost no support. Economically, with the world holding back funding, Afghanistan will be in a dire economic state. Its economy is no longer a subsistence one as in the nineties. The small Chinese grant would be insufficient.
Iran has offered oil, for which payments would need to be made. The only source of income remains exporting drugs through Pakistan or selling US military hardware taken from the previous regime.
It is reported that the Afghan government sold 100 Humvees to a Northern drug warlord. It would sell or exchange US equipment with Pakistan for funds, oil or food stocks. However, these are just short-term measures. The longer the world holds back funding and engagement, the tougher it would become for the Taliban to maintain order within.
Though the UN indicated its willingness to provide humanitarian support, it has not been able to do much. Having nurtured the Taliban and created a government of its choosing, the onus on ensuring its wellbeing remains on Pakistan. Unless Pakistan pushes the Taliban to comply with demands placed by the international community, it will be left alone to support a starving and economically weak Afghanistan. But the question is: Does Pakistan have resources to support itself, forget about Afghanistan?
*** The writer is a strategic affairs commentator; views expressed are his own